- In a viral video, Quaden Bayles, an Australian boy with dwarfism, shared how relentless bullying has affected him.
- In response, celebrities reached out to Quaden, and supporters raised nearly $US470,000, part of which is being used to send the boy to Disneyland.
- John Young, an advocate who has dwarfism, was concerned when he saw donations going toward short-term fixes, instead of long-term solutions – like community education.
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When John Young, a high school maths teacher with dwarfism, was tagged more than 20 times on Facebook in the viral video of Quaden Bayles last week, he started to worry.
The video, which collected more than 20 million views before it was removed from Facebook, showed the distraught Australian 9-year-old, who also has dwarfism, crying about being relentlessly bullied. The clip has raised funds for Quaden to go to Disneyland and celebrities reached out to meet Quaden.
But Young is concerned that the sudden fame will just serve as a short-term fix. It hasn’t empowered Quaden, nor has it educated his newfound supporters on how to effectively combat this specific type of widespread bullying.
In a viral video, Quaden Bayles, a boy with dwarfism, opened up about being bullied
“That’s not something I would do,” Young said of posting the distressing video. “If my child was in that situation, I would be much more concerned about comforting them and protecting them. What worries me now is that the video is going to be there forever.”
Yarraka Bayles, Quaden’s mother, shared the footage of her despondent son, who has a form of dwarfism, called achondroplasia, on February 19. She wanted to demonstrate how damaging bullying is and get advice. In the video, Quaden said he could no longer tolerate being tormented at school and he expressed a wish to end his life.
In standard viral video fashion, Quaden got an outpouring of support as the clip gained traction. Comedian Brad Williams, who also has dwarfism, started a GoFundMe campaign to send Quaden and his family to Disneyland, and raised nearly $US470,000 as of Tuesday morning. Quaden led his favourite Rugby team out onto the field on Saturday in Australia. Quaden’s mother told Reuters that Saturday was the “best day of his life.”
But when the fanfare dies down, and the internet moves onto the next stunning video clip, Young is concerned how Quaden will cope.
A trip to Disneyland won’t end bullying, said John Young, an advocate with dwarfism
Instead of using the money from the GoFundMe campaign to go on an elaborate trip, Young would encourage Quaden’s family to put the money towards educating people about dwarfism, bullying, and how to best support people who are struggling like Quaden.
“I think they need to take a lot of whatever money was raised,” he said, “and help his community understand that Quaden’s just a young boy, and his physical features are not something that should be made fun of. “
The attention has certainly made Quaden feel better, for now. But it may not have prepared him for his next confrontation at school, Young said. The event also didn’t touch on a whole other thorny issue. While it’s become unacceptable in most of society to mock a person with a physical disability, tormenting a person with dwarfism is still common, Young added.
Teasing people with dwarfism is still common and the film industry perpetuates it
“A lot of people still think it’s OK to make jokes about people that have dwarfism. The word ‘midget’ is still thought of to be an OK word [to use],” Young said. “That’s the thing that’s most frustrating. You don’t see a lot of other physical disabilities made fun of.”
Young has also faced callous bullying most of his life.
“People asked, ‘Are you going to be in the circus? Are you going to be a midget wrestler? Are you going to be an entertainer?'” Young told CBS Boston in 2018 of the comments he endured as a child. “And I was like, ‘No, I like school. I like maths. I want to go to college.'”
While growing up in the ’60s and ’70s, there wasn’t a movement to protect or encourage people who had dwarfism. On top of that, representations of people with dwarfism in the media, like Mini-Me in the “Austin Powers” movies, for example, just continue to perpetuate negative stereotypes.
Young, a teacher and endurance athlete, has worked to dispel negative stereotypes
To feel healthy and strong, and to dispel common misconceptions about dwarfism, Young started participating in endurance races about 10 years ago. To date, Young has competed in 18 marathons and more than 50 triathlons, which included an Ironman triathlon.
Through social media, Young has been in touch with Quaden over the years. Young wore a headband the boy made for him in the 2017 Boston Marathon.
Young and his wife have always encouraged their son to stand up to bullies
Young’s 17-year-old son, Owen, who also has dwarfism, has been affected by bullying as well. But Young said that he and his wife, Sue, have put a lot of effort into teaching their son how to fend for himself, which is what he would like to see other parents and advocates do for children with the same condition.
“We definitely don’t ignore it,” Young said, “because we want our son to also stick up for himself.”
Young appreciates when children ask questions about his appearance in a respectful way
In his own personal efforts to educate people about his disability, Young always recommends that parents allow their curious children to ask questions in an appropriate way.
“I want kids to know that I’m just an average person,” he said, emphasising that children should also be taught to use the word “average” over “normal.”
Young also urges people to become “upstanders,” instead of bystanders. It means being armed with the appropriate words to be able to step in when someone is being tormented.
“When people see something happening to another person and they know it isn’t right,” Young said, “they need to be empowered to stand up and say, ‘Hey, stop that.'”